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To distract myself from the unprecedented fear, anxiety, and uncertainty that have been brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic, I finally caved and downloaded TikTok.
Yes, I know. There are so many other things that I could be doing with my time like reading a book, learning to cook, or even journaling again. But all of those require me to actually put in the effort to think, concentrate, and engage — something I barely have any motivation for. So, I’ve taken to mindlessly scrolling through TikTok videos, memorizing TikTok dances after watching fifty #SavageChallenge videos, and laughing uncontrollably at other relatable comedic content.
I am far from alone. In fact, social media consumption has spiked since the mandating of self-quarantine and closing of bars, restaurants, and other public venues, especially Instagram and TikTok. Just in the past couple of weeks, more than two thousand TikTok influencers saw engagement with their content increase by 27 percent, and certain Instagram pages have seen a 76 percent increase in daily accumulated likes on their posts.
But just the other day, as I laid on my bed scrolling through TikTok videos — despite my weekly Apple Screen Time reports screaming at me to get off my phone — I stumbled across a particularly disturbing #MugshotChallenge trend, where people posed as if they were taking a mugshot. Some big influencers like James Charles, Corinna Kopf, and Avani Gregg even went as far as to use makeup to feign being beaten, with fake bruised eyes and bloody noses. Many, including some of their own fans, have expressed extreme discomfort with these posts, complaining that they glorify domestic violence. The rise of domestic abuse cases due to mandated self-quarantines makes these social media challenges and posts especially inappropriate and extremely insensitive.
This particularly hit home for me because domestic violence is rampant in the South Pacific. As recently as 20118, the United Nations estimated that 60 to 80 percent of women and girls in the Pacific experience physical or sexual violence by a partner or other. And with mandated self-quarantining in response to COVID-19, people suffering from domestic violence are at an even higher risk now than ever before. Just in the past couple of weeks since I’ve been home, there have already been very violent, public incidents of domestic violence, with women beaten (in one incident, even to death) by their husbands or ex-partners. In one case, a seven-year-old child called 911 to report her father violently beating her mother; in another, a woman was attacked with a hammer and burned alive, dying the next morning after being admitted to the hospital in a coma. But keep in mind that these are only the incidents that have gotten public attention. Nearly half of domestic violence goes unreported in normal times. Imagine the number of cases that are probably going unreported now.
Even more than isolating them with their abusers, the pandemic also puts those suffering from domestic violence at high risk due to the rise of economic stresses like job instability. With the closing of many businesses like bars, restaurants, and other non-essential services, people are being put out of work, heightening the tensions that come with feeding members of the household and paying rent and utility bills. Indeed, studies show that domestic violence increases with the rise of unemployment. And with women earning 24 percent less than men globally, financial instability and limitations on mobility might stop women abused by their partners from leaving.
Because of the closing of resource centers, self-isolation mandates, and emphases on social distancing, people suffering from domestic violence might not feel like they have anywhere to go. In many Pacific cultures, where social distancing seems foreign and where we are accustomed to coming together to hold each other as family in both times of desperation and celebration, women and other people suffering from domestic abuse in the Pacific are extremely vulnerable during this pandemic.
And right now, social media is one of the best, or even only, platforms for us to connect with and support domestic violence survivors. In fact, in Tonga, the Women and Children Crisis Center is looking to move their resources online considering that 62 percent of their nation’s population uses social media. Hopefully other domestic violence services in the Pacific follow suit.
All of which makes the #MugshotChallenge — which not only glamorizes and minimizes their abuse, but also has the potential for retraumatizing them — absolutely unacceptable. During these unprecedented times, we need to be using social media to support and uplift each other, especially those most vulnerable, not to re-trigger and tear each other down.
Gabrielle T. Langkilde ’21, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a joint concentrator in Sociology and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.
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